Honeybees Flower Scent Hampered by Diesel Fumes

10.10.13

Floral Odour

Recent research by the University of Southampton has found that diesel fumes can affect honeybees’ ability to locate flowers to pollinate. The floral odour assist bees to find, identify and recognise the flowers from which they forage. However, the University study has found that diesel exhaust fumes can change the profile of the odour from flowers which may affect honeybees’ foraging efficiency and could ultimately affect pollination and global food security.

The study involved mixing eight chemicals found in the odour of oil rapeseed flowers with both clean air and air containing diesel exhaust. Results showed that six of the eight chemicals reduced (in volume) when mixed with the diesel exhaust air and two of them disappeared completely within a minute. The odour that was mixed with the clean air was unaffected. This means that the profile of the chemical mix had completely changed when diesel exhaust emissions were present. Researchers went further and used the same process with nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide gases, also found in diesel exhaust, and experienced the same outcome. This suggests that nitrogen oxides (NOx) were a key facilitator in how and why the odour’s profile was altered. The scientists said that when the honeybees were exposed to this changed chemical mix, they could not recognise it.

Recognition of Odour

Dr Newman, neuroscientist at University of Southampton, “Honeybees have a sensitive sense of smell and an exceptional ability to learn and memorise new odours. NOx gases represent some of the most reactive gases produced from diesel combustion and other fossil fuels, but the emissions limits for nitrogen dioxide are regularly exceeded, especially in urban areas. Our results suggest that that diesel exhaust pollution alters the components of a synthetic floral odour blend, which affects the honeybee’s recognition of the odour.” Dr Newman added that this could have “serious detrimental effects” on honeybee colonies and pollination activity.

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